Nigeria needs help. Like seriously and fast. We all must accept this, especially from the many intractable issues of insecurity, infrastructural decay and the political anemia of the present dispensation. If we do accept therefore that Nigeria needs help, and urgently too, questions arise concerning who or from where that help cometh. Ordinarily, it would make a lot of sense to expect a plethora of innovative ideas from about four or five categories of individual or organisations – the international community, the political elite – we prefer to exclude our lame duck president who is increasingly getting testy over criticism from the elite, but include those extremely rich governors, ministers, senators, Honourable members of the House of Representatives – they who represent the engine house of our democratic epoch. Among that lot we would definitely expect the middle class cum the big players in the socio-political economy of Nigeria, that is, those who pull the strings and who supposedly rev our economic engine. Then as a matter of fact, we should enlist the religio-political groups who draw millions to their folds with assurances of a heaven after this hell on earth.
An ongoing national event, the National Identity Number, NIN registration debunks the above supposition however. Following that announcement that Nigerians should meet a February 9 2021 deadline to register for their NIN, many Nigerians responded nationwide. When we got there though, what we found on ground was a national embarrassment. To attend to the millions who showed up, government provided only what seemed like an analogue computer. Officials said that that one computer cost N1.5million because it needed to be calibrated and apps for its operations installed. To effectively deal with that large number of persons who showed up to get registered, a minimum of 10 computers with corresponding support staff should have made things better run. Yet, a distinguishing feature that made the exercise even more shameful and disconcerting was that instead of letting everyone pass through the hog, several interest groups akin to the ones we described above forced several ‘service points’ – while it was easy for any of the groups we mentioned earlier – politicians, religious and traditional leaders, captains of industry – to just waltz in and get the registration done, others, teeming Nigerians stood in the hot sun daily for as much as 7 to 8 hours and endured a most humiliating exercise.
Is it out of place to expect these politicians, government appointees, house of assembly members would to at least highlight the plight of Nigerians through their privileged positions? Or to expect that they could have carried out an engagement or intervention to try to find out why there was only one computer provided for an exercise as crucial as the capturing of sensitive data of Nigerians? As a matter of fact, the reason why there was such a teeming crowd of Nigerians left out there in the sun for weeks was because there was just one computer for the exercise.
But did anyone budge? Not really. Most just shrugged at the large numbers huddled under trees at the centre taking refuge from the blazing sun. They sauntered in, registered and breezed out. That situation – where Nigerians seeking to register for their NIN and suffered under the sun, standing for hours may not have been different at other NIN registration centres across Nigeria. Those in Benin suffered similar fate. But that was until a Margaret Isioma Osogbue showed up to register for her own NIN at the NIN registration point in Benin City. Sources said that after making inquiries at why so many people were out there in the scorching sun without any cover, she emerged 30 minutes later with a canopy and 70 chairs. Her payment which covered only three days did not accommodate everyone. Our source said that she promised to return to extend payment for the chairs and canopy for as long as the registration exercise would take. From interacting with her, we found out that Osogbu had been in the habit of taking responsibility and standing in the gap for others for a long time. At the time she paid for those chairs and that canopy, she said she had less than $200 in her bank account. ‘You don’t have to have millions before putting yourself in the position to help other people. Most of the trees we pick fruits from freely were planted by people we don’t even know’, she said.
But who is Mrs Margaret Osogbue? Is her intervention not a publicity-seeking stunt to prepare her launch into partisan politics for elective position? That seems unlikely. For most of the 30 years wherein she had lived in Benin City as a lawyer, she has cut a niche for herself as an altruistic personage seeking good for others. After providing the chairs and the canopy, Mrs Osogbue refused to part with her phone number, only unwillingly divulging it to a discreet officer at the Air force Medical Centre just so to be held responsible if the chairs and canopy breached the strict military regimen around the facility. Mrs Osogbue has been calling friends, acquaintances and family members to help with providing chairs and canopies for the thousands of Nigerians left in the sun at that NIN centre.
In Osogbue’s example, themes and memes prevalent in existential entanglements pop up. In Mrs Osogbue’s example, we suddenly come to terms with the tragic realization that there is a huge gap between those at that end and the rest of us. Her effort amplifies the emerging trend in local politics that because we have been serially treated shabbily by those we entrusted our destinies, we don’t need to wait to be very big, rich and powerful before taking the gauntlet on behalf of a traumatized and harassed citizenry. In Mrs Osogbue’s example, we find that until we all get together to take and demand action on some of the areas wherein we have been left stranded by the status quo, exploitation of the less privileged will not cease. We conclude as well that the many political figures that Nigerians voted for to represent them at critical moments as this do not really care. Many too who are asking to be voted to power do not care as well. They are there, or want to be there apparently for their own welfare and to consolidate their own privileges. It is the same experience with many religious leaders and captains of industry who came, saw and did nothing to ameliorate the brutish and harsh condition they saw Nigerians subjected by a rudderless epoch.
At the end, we salute Mrs Margaret Isioma Osogbue as a worthy ambassador of the human race. We pray that in the years ahead that Nigeria will find a position of trust for her to hold on behalf of Nigerians.
*** Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is deputy executive director of CERLSI. / firstname.lastname@example.org